Schoenith party retrospective toasts metro area’s premier party hosts

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 5, 2016

 Diane and Tom Schoenith celebrate Diane’s birthday during one of the couple’s early parties.

Diane and Tom Schoenith celebrate Diane’s birthday during one of the couple’s early parties.

Photo provided by Tom Schoenith

GROSSE POINTE CITY — They’ve entertained everyone from governors to rock stars to the corporate elite with class and panache, and now Tom and Diane Schoenith, of Grosse Pointe City, are taking a fond look back at the last 50 years.

The couple — who met in 1966 at the Roostertail in Detroit, the riverfront restaurant launched by Tom Schoenith’s parents — has been organizing memorable parties for the last five decades, and their latest endeavor is the aptly named Fifty Years of Parties. The Schoeniths will be celebrating this milestone moment with — what else? — a party April 12 in one of the ballrooms at the Detroit Marriott inside the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. 

The party is an invitation-only affair, but the next day, a special exhibition showing artifacts and photos from their five decades of festive events will be on display for the public. From 9 a.m. to noon April 13, anyone interested in seeing the memorabilia is welcome to visit the display at the Marriott, where visitors will find storyboards from each of the last 50 years. 

Tom Schoenith said there will be people on hand — who worked at the parties during each of these five decades — to discuss what they did and answer questions, and the Schoeniths themselves will be there for anyone who wants to hear any of the stories behind the photos and invitations. Along with photos, videos, news clippings and other items, there will even be some complaint letters.

“It was part of the whole experience — the good and the bad,” Tom Schoenith said.

During the April 12 party, Tom Schoenith said, there will be food and cocktails from each of the last five decades, and there will also be a fashion show featuring models wearing 30 years of his wife’s designer gowns. As the models stroll down the runway, he said, they’ll be carrying a black-and-white, 8-by-10-inch photo of Diane Schoenith in the dress they’re now wearing.

In an email interview, Diane Schoenith said some of the dresses she wore over the years were given away, but others were kept. She’s looking forward to the fashion flashback during the party.

“They remind me of all the good times and events,” she said of the dresses. “Just wish I could still wear them!”

For Diane Schoenith, a three-day celebration thrown for then-Detroit Tigers owner and Domino’s Pizza owner Tom Monahan on Drummond Island in 1987 “was spectacular.” She recalled it was “a lot of work on our part, but memorable.” Tom Schoenith said the $1 million bash involved flying in about 70 guests to the remote island using private planes and helicopters. Monahan, a devout Catholic, had built a chapel on the island, and he asked the Schoeniths to get rosaries blessed by the pope for party guests.

For a beach-themed 1998 benefit for the Karmanos Cancer Center at the Chrysler Viper plant in Hamtramck, the Schoeniths brought in 20-foot-tall Florida palm trees and sand to create a real beach — with a swimming pool — and they entertained the 1,200 guests with a concert by the Beach Boys.

Diane Schoenith said the couple once hosted a birthday party for guitar legend Eric Clapton, and they’ve also held concert after-parties for people like Elton John and Bette Midler. 

Although the Schoenith family still owns the Roostertail — Tom Schoenith now runs it with Michael, one of his sons — the family has hosted parties at many places, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the London Chop House and even Metro Airport, where they threw one party — with clowns — on an airplane. One of the reasons they’re not having Fifty Years of Parties at the Roostertail is that the 500-some guests expected to attend include the entire Roostertail staff, and Tom Schoenith wants them to be able to come to the party, not work at it.

For his wife’s 40th birthday party, Tom Schoenith flew friends and family to a 1940s-themed restaurant at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, where guests were asked to don 1940s apparel. They’ve made movies at some parties, introduced vehicles like the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler K-car, and even offered swine flu shots to top executives and others during a swine flu-themed event in 1976 at the Schoenith home. The goal, said Tom Schoenith, is always to wow the guests.

“There was a reason why we did everything,” he said of the sometimes over-the-top celebrations.

His favorite part of entertaining is “creating something out of nothing,” he said.

While some of their sensational soirees have been private parties, a good number have been fundraisers for nonprofits such as the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit Institute of Arts, March of Dimes, Grosse Pointe Historical Society, Detroit Historical Society, Gleaners Community Fo od Bank, Motown Museum, Children’s Hospital of Michigan and many others.

“A lot of the parties were promoting the city (of Detroit), promoting (charities),” Tom Schoenith said. “I’m still a believer that a fundraiser doesn’t have to be boring. We did a lot of fun parties.”

For Fifty Years of Parties, the Schoeniths are violating a cardinal rule of party invitations by asking guests not to bring gifts. Instead, Tom Schoenith said he and his wife are encouraging anyone who wanted to bring a present to instead make a contribution to a favorite nonprofit.

From the tiniest details, such as the colors and fonts on an invitation or bringing special chairs and linens to a venue, Tom Schoenith is a perfectionist — and proud of it.

“Well, yeah,” he said of his attention to every aspect of a party. “Don’t let me go to a restaurant and see a lightbulb that hasn’t been dusted.”

But that’s why people have been enlisting the help of the Schoeniths for decades in creating memorable celebrations. The couple hopes this anniversary celebration will be among those memorable moments.

“We hope all guests will enjoy the memories we created for them,” Diane Schoenith said. “It’s a mini history of the times we lived in, from the early Motown days to now, (during) the resurgence of Detroit.”

The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center is located at 400 Renaissance Drive — off Jefferson Avenue — in downtown Detroit. For more information about the exhibit, visit www.fiftyyearsofparties.com or see the Facebook page.